Heading to the gym for a bit of cardio usually means jumping on the treadmill, spending a bit of time on the bike or setting 20 minutes on the Cross-trainer timer – but what about the dusty, forgotten machine that sits hiding in the corner?
Yep – the rowing machine! You know it, everyone else knows it – the rowing machine is probably the least used piece of cardio equipment at the gym… but why do we avoid it?
Don’t get me wrong, all the other pieces of equipment have there benefits and are useful in developing cardiovascular fitness if used appropriately, but I personally wonder why I would go running on the treadmill when I can do that anywhere as there is so much to be seen in the world (yes – weather does get in the way sometimes!)
…Obviously, it is not so easy and cheap to get in a boat and start rowing, hence why I advocate its use in the gym.
Let’s start a gym revelation – here are some brilliant reasons to choose the rowing machine next time you visit the gym for some cardio…
1. Full body workout
Hallelujah! ONE machine that works the whole body – (great if you’re cut for time and you don’t know what to train)
You could argue that the arms may get a very small workout when running or on the cross-trainer but in comparison to the gross upper-body musculature that is trained during rowing, this is negligible.
When you combine the amount of effort required from upper body pulling muscles combined with the initial explosive pushing movement, which involves all the muscles of the lower body, you almost have a cast-iron blueprint to success.
A rowing machine may look like the easiest piece of equipment – sit down and pull the bar, right?
Wrong – (as shown above) this cardiovascular exercise uses an incredibly amount of muscles to perform the backward, forward movement, therefore it is incredible important to do so with correct form – not only to achieve maximal results but to prevent serious injury.
Follow these simple but effective tips to correct your technique:
1) Sit down on the seat and find a comfortable position that allows your body to align with the centre of the machine – keep your bottom securely sat whilst leaning your hamstrings slightly off the edge of the seat.
2) Before beginning any movement, adjust the foot straps and foot-holder in front of you until your feet are comfortable and secure (this may seem silly but it makes a huge difference!)
3) Use an over-hand grip when grabbing on to the handle with both hands – they should be shoulder width apart. It is important to approach with a loose grip to allow for flexibility and to ‘hang’ off the grip to work the muscles more.
4) Perfect your posture: Extremely important to master! A small tip would be to imagine a piece of string going through the centre of your back, from your head to the bottom of your torso – imagine it’s pulled tight. You should be sitting tall with your stomach held in – allow your shoulders to be loose for flexibility.
5) When pulling back, make sure you start by leaning forward with legs bent and put arms straight out in front of you.
6) (Remember to keep your back straight) – lean back slightly, straighten your legs and gently pull your elbows close to your body – try not to dig them in – (remember to stay fairly loose for maximum flexibility.)
2. Effective calorie burner
Vigorous rowing is one of the highest caloric burners – not to mention the muscles are used to their full range of motion at a joint, vital for keeping the body in balance.
Training on a rowing-machine can burn up to an incredible 600 calories per hour! I can think think of quite a few healthy snacks that I could have if I burnt all those calories…
However – that’s not the point!
The point is that although the rowing-machine may be a slightly more difficult cardiovascular exercise in comparison to the treadmill, cross-trainer or bike – the end results are totally worth it and you’ll thank yourself after your cheat meal…
More calories burned the better, right? Well then, why not try a little bit of HIIT? I know, I know – you’ve only just come to terms with using the rowing machine more than others… but, actually, HIIT on the rowing machine can give you more of a breather even though it burns MORE calories… Try 30 on 30 off – 30 seconds fast rowing then 30 seconds steady state (secretly classing it as time for a good old breather).
Try this for 5 minutes to start with – 10 minutes if you’re feeling good! You’re body won’t expect it, therefore forcing it to work harder and get your blood pumping more to catch up after rest!
3. Effective aerobic exercise
Now you are aware that training on the rowing machine uses a variety of the major muscle groups, it is easier to explain why rowing is such a great form of aerobic exercise.
Using a variety of muscle groups in comparison to cardio workouts that target specific muscles results in an increase of heart rate, therefore increasing the amount of oxygen flowing through your body. Don’t worry too much though – see this as a perk as you can control this by choosing a specific resistance on the rowing machine.
4. Prevents upper body imbalances
In modern day life we tend to put an over-emphasis on pushing movements, particularly a lot of people who go to the gym to lift weights.
Vast amounts of men go to the gym and simply train their upper body muscles which consists of getting big arms and a big chest, with no understanding of the muscular imbalances this can cause.
Without a lack of equal training to the antagonist posterior muscles, the humeral head at the shoulder with time is pulled forwards as the chest muscles get stronger, bigger and shorter, making the posture more rounded.
Rounded postures place the shoulder joint in an unbalanced position away from the ideal centred position. This unbalanced position leads to increased compression and lack of range of movement at the shoulder likely to cause injury. (Bullock et al, 2005)(Kolber et al, 2010).
Thus, by adding rowing with proper form into your workout not only does it allow for a good cardiovascular workout but it helps to pull the shoulder back in to its correct position by contracting the muscles of the back.
5. Rowing avoids joint pain
As someone who has had frustrating injuries with both my ankles and knees at only 20 years of age, I have learnt the hard way not too over-stress the body with activities such as running and playing sports.
If you are simply exercising to improve your body composition and cardiovascular endurance, using the rowing machine will be your perfect option.
Training on the rowing machine in comparison to other cardiovascular machines relieves a lot of stress on the joints imposed by running as it uses less cyclic movements per minute than effectively any other aerobic exercise.
If you suffer with this problem in your current training routine, it would be worth a lot to give rowing a go!
I would definitely recommend getting your joints checked by a professional if you are already experiencing joint pain – rowing may reduce the inflammation in comparison to other exercise machines but that’s not to say it will heal issues that are already occurring!
For Fat Loss & Anaerobic Improvement
– Warm Up = Steady 500m
– 500m Sprints with 1min Interval
– Repeat between 5-10 times depending on fitnes
– Record time and try to improve each workout
For Cardiovascular Endurance
– Longer distance for 20-40 minutes
– Working aerobically just below lactate threshold for best results.
As with anything to achieve results you need to be willing to work hard!
To really push yourself in your workout try one or all of these methods:
– Set a target of what needs to be achieved prior to starting e.g. a time to complete a certain distance
– Find training partner to compete against.
– Create a good playlist that gets you motivated.
Take home message
Yes, the rowing machine may be a slightly more difficult cardiovascular option, but, remember, if you really want to change up your fitness routine for better results: (cliché)
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!